By Christopher Moraff
PA’s sex offender registry lists 100 names within a one-mile radius of my house. Should I be worried?
The ongoing plight of a Florida teen underscores the dysfunction of state laws that require sex offenders to register in a national database, even when they are teenagers and their “crime” consisted of nothing more than having a consensual relationship with someone a few years younger than them.
If you aren’t already familiar with the story, here are the details, courtesy of the Huffington Post:
“A Florida teenager faces criminal charges stemming from her relationship with another young female student. Kaitlyn Hunt, 18, faces two felony counts of ‘lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16′ after the parents of her 15-year-old girlfriend pressed charges earlier this year.”
According to media reports, the two teens—who were basketball teammates—met when Hunt was 17 and the “victim” was 14 and had been dating openly for several months. The younger girl’s parents, who opposed the relationship, filed a criminal complaint when Hunt became a legal adult. If convicted of the charges, Hunt faces more than a decade in jail and would be required to register as a sex offender. Last week she rejected a plea deal that carried a lesser penalty of two years of house arrest but still would have required her to register.
Many commentators have been focusing on the gay angle, claiming—at least semi-plausibly—that the youths were targeted because of their sexual orientation. Hundreds of thousands of supporters have signed a petition calling on prosecutors to drop the charges; and the case has drawn the attention of the hacktivist collective Anonymous, which is putting its own unique brand of pressure on officials in Indian River County, where the charges were filed.
But while the fact that the case involves two girls has certainly imbued it with an element of political dynamism, as many as 30 other cases just like it—almost all involving heterosexuals—fly under the radar each year in Florida. The real story is not so much that Hunt and her young lover were targeted, but that draconian sex laws have created a regime in which a high-schooler’s life can be ruined for engaging in a monogamous love affair with a classmate.
In 2013, there are nearly 750,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., including individuals convicted of non-violent crimes such as consensual sex between teenagers, prostitution and public nudity, as well as those who committed their only offenses decades ago. While national statistics generally do not separate youth sex offenders from others, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch, it’s not uncommon for children as young as 15—and in some cases 13—to end up on the registry.